Snowpack news: January 1 forecast — average runoff in the South Platte Basin

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The January snowpack forecasts from the Natural Resources Conservation Service hit the streets on Friday.

The Colorado Basin Outlook Reports predict below average runoff in the Gunnison, Colorado, Yampa, White, North Platte and Laramie basins while, “All in all, the water situation on the South Platte is setting up well, being near average on all fronts on the first of January,” according to the report.

“Streamflow forecasts on the Arkansas are near average at this point falling in between 90 – 107% of average for the 50% exceedance level. The Grape Creek near Westcliffe, CO forecast point is tied for the best outlook in the state, so far. It is still early in the forecast season, and from this point, on average, there is still 60% of this year’s snowpack left to accumulate,” the report says.

Rio Grande Basin irrigators can expect, “slightly below average with most forecasts falling near 90% of average.”

For the San Miguel, Dolores, Animas and San Juan River Basins the report says, “The basin should see below average runoff during the spring and summer throughout the basin. April-July forecasts range from 80 percent of average for the La Plata River at Hesperus to 99 percent of average for the Navajo River at the Oso Diversion.”

We still have a lot of winter to go. April 1 is the big day to look at snowpack and streamflow forecasts.

Donala Water and Sanitation District meetings to discuss ‘water for the future’ January 13 and 14

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From The Tri-Lakes Tribune:

The Donala Water & Sanitation District, which serves the community of Gleneagle and surrounding developments, is holding two “town meetings” at 7 p.m. Jan. 13 and 14 at the Gleneagle Golf Club, 345 Mission Hill Way. The meetings will be the same both nights, allowing for as many constituents as possible to attend. The topic will be “water for the future,” and the plans that Donala has for bringing renewable water into the district. “We have been working on finding a renewable source of water to replace our depleting Denver Basin of aquifer supply for several years,” said Dana Duthie, Donala’s general manager. “We have kept our customers informed through newsletters, past town meetings and phone surveys. Now we have settled on what we believe is the solution — a connection to the distribution system of Colorado Springs Utilities.

More Denver Basin Aquifer System coverage here and here.

Energy policy — coalbed methane: State Engineer Dick Wolfe uses industry maps to develop rules governing produced water augmentation

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From The Durango Herald (Joe Hanel):

State Engineer Dick Wolfe finished new rules for area coalbed methane wells Dec. 30. They allow most of the wells in San Juan Basin to be treated as nontributary, meaning the water in the coal seams does not connect with surface streams. “There’s a lot at stake. If they can turn Colorado water law on its head like this and get away with it, I don’t know how anybody can feel like their water rights are safe,” said Jim Fitzgerald, who successfully sued the state in 2005 for not protecting his water rights from coalbed methane drilling. Fitzgerald’s wife, Mary, and Bill and Elizabeth Vance of Archuleta County also were plaintiffs.

Their case went to the state Supreme Court, which said coalbed methane wells need to get a water permit from the state engineer. What’s more, gas companies might be required to create augmentation plans to replace the water they use…

The Supreme Court case scared water regulators – who feared a blizzard of paperwork – and gas companies – who did not want large new costs for drilling wells. Shortly after the Supreme Court ruling last April, the Legislature directed Wolfe’s office to set rules about which wells don’t need augmentation plans. The rulemaking is ongoing, but the portion that covers coalbed methane wells in Southwest Colorado was finalized in December…

During the rulemaking, area gas companies collaborated to create a map of nontributary water. Wolfe adopted that map as official state policy. The change takes effect at the end of January, but Fitzgerald and other land-owners plan to appeal to water courts. Wolfe defended his decision to use the gas companies’ model of underground water. It used good science based on “complete and robust data,” Wolfe wrote in his justification for the rules. Zeller, too, defended the way companies drew the map. “If we were in doubt, we erred in the interest of the other water rights holders,” she said…

Durango City Manager Ron LeBlanc sent Wolfe a letter last month to say he thought the rules could hurt the city’s water rights on the Animas and Florida rivers. “We believe the results of such rulemaking may not be manifested for decades to come, and that the effect of the dewatering of aquifers in the area of our water rights will have a detrimental and irreversible effect on the city’s pubic water supply,” LeBlanc wrote…

San Juan National Forest Supervisor Mark Stiles sent Wolfe a letter asking for a delay until federal land officials could do detailed studies on springs in the land they manage. Wolfe didn’t grant the delay, but the Forest Service does not plan to appeal, Stiles said…

Wolfe said he took seriously the concerns from foresters, city officials and others. “I don’t want people to think that we were totally dismissive of these individuals’ concerns,” he said. In general, Wolfe’s map puts wells in the southern parts of La Plata and Archuleta counties into the nontributary zone, exempting them from strict regulations. Most of the Southern Ute Indian Reservation is in the nontributary zone.

Even with the nontributary exemption, gas companies still will have to file well permits for more than 4,000 Southwest Colorado wells. And the tributary wells will need court-approved plans to replace the water they use. Those plans will go back to Judge Gregory Lyman, the Durango water judge whose ruling started the whole affair, Zeller said. “He’s going to get a whole bunch of paperwork,” she said.

More coalbed methane coverage here and here.

Ouray: 2010 Ice Festival recap

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From The Durango Herald (Chuck Slothower):

[Dawn] Glanc was one of 24 competitors at the 15th annual Ouray Ice Festival. Climbers descend into deep ravines and slowly climb up, using ice axes and crampons. Every competitor climbs the same route, about 100 feet up a wall of ice. Climbers have 20 minutes to advance as far as they can. “The goal is to get to the top,” Glanc said. “Not everybody does.”

As the climbers methodically worked their way up masses of icicles in Ouray’s Box Canyon, fans watching from bridges cheered them on. Besides the competitions, the ice festival hosted children’s and adult ice-climbing clinics, 50 vendors’ tents and an estimated 5,000 spectators. Live music, a film and a superhero party were scheduled for Saturday night…

“This is the biggest and best ice festival that’s held in the United States,” said Glanc. “All the other ice festivals try to be like this one.” The crowds of novices far outnumbered the competitors…

Josh Wharton of Rifle repeated Saturday as men’s champion. Ines Papert of Germany won the women’s division. As for Glanc, she did not repeat as champion but finished in third place in the women’s competition. “That’s pretty darn good,” she said. “I’m pretty happy with that.”

Energy policy — geothermal: DNR/BLM geothermal open house January 14 in Buena Vista

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Tracy Harmon):

The Bureau of Land Management and the Colorado Department of Natural Resources have scheduled a public information meeting from 7:30 to 10 p.m. Thursday at the Buena Vista Community Center, 715 E. Main St. The meeting will focus on a federal geothermal lease parcel in Chaffee County near Mount Princeton Hot Springs. The format of the meeting will include presentations by the BLM and the state, followed by informal discussion and information sessions between federal and state officials and the public. “This meeting will be an opportunity for the Colorado BLM and the state to share information and answer questions from the local community on geothermal leasing,” said Lynn Rust, BLM Colorado deputy state director for minerals and lands.

More geothermal coverage here and here.

State Representative Sal Pace plans to introduce legislation requiring mitigation for transbasin diversions

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Patrick Malone):

Pace said Friday he plans to introduce a bill during the upcoming Legislative session that would require advanced mitigation of economic and ecological effects on originating communities when water is transferred. On the other side of the fight are the communities that would be the water’s destination. And they’ve prevailed in the past.

Presently, a water judge can only consider senior water rights in determining whether to allow transfers. Pace said it’s archaic that ecological damage is not a consideration in the process. He pointed to Crowley County’s meager average annual household income for a family of four – $18,000 – as an example of the aftermath of water transfers conducted without regard to economic or ecological impact on a region. Generally, he said, urban centers are sated at the expense of rural areas by benefiting from the transfers. Consequently, Pace’s proposed legislation would require water divisions seeking to receive transfers to reach economic and ecological mitigation agreements with the originating communities before the transfers could be approved in Water Court. If a mitigation agreement could not be reached, a judge would have to rule on one.

The existing law governing mitigation of water transfers – the Conservancy District Act – was adopted in 1937 and only requires mitigation when water transfers come from the Western Slope across the Continental Divide. Pace’s bill would extend that mitigation requirement to all transfers between two water districts. State Sen. Dan Gibbs, a Western Slope Democrat, is the bill’s Senate sponsor. A similar bill was proposed in 2004, but it died in the House.

Here’s a roundup of planned legislation from Arkansas Valley legislators, from Patrick Malone writing for The Pueblo Chieftain.

Here’s a look at some of the movers and shakers in the state legislature, from Joe Hanel writing for The Durango Herald.

Here’s a look at Northern Colorado legislators’ plans, from Bobby Magill writing for the Fort Collins Coloradoan.

More 2010 Colorado legislation coverage here.